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City boasts it’s filling potholes within 2 1/2 days of hearing about them

City workers James D'Antonio (left)  RWilcek fill potholes North Damen Avenue. Eddy last year. File Pho | John J.

City workers James D'Antonio (left) and Ron Wilcek fill potholes on North Damen Avenue. at Eddy last year. File Photo | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 24, 2012 9:03AM

Chicago’s never-ending war on potholes may not be so never-ending after all.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration boasted Wednesday that it has eliminated the 9,000-pothole backlog the mayor inherited when he took office in mid-May and now is “keeping pace with daily” requests to fill potholes.

That has undoubtedly been helped along by the unseasonably mild and relatively snow-free winter. But, it’s also a product of the city’s new and more strategic approach to pothole patching.

The Chicago Department of Transportation is now using a new mapping technology to build “daily grid routes” that allow city crews to address “open calls for service” in blitzkrieg fashion.

And asphalt materials used to fill potholes are now delivered to four neighborhood field offices. That means less time and energy wasted driving to asphalt plants to load trucks before the city’s 17 to 20 daily pothole crews can begin their daily shifts.

When the new deployment strategies began in November, there were 7,000 unfilled potholes.

On Wednesday morning, the backlog was down to 300. That’s a number that can easily be filled in a day’s work, officials said. The average time between a 311 call to report a pothole and the pothole being filled is now 2 1/2 days, officials said.

“By concentrating our pothole repair efforts in the areas with the greatest need and approaching the work in a smarter way, we are now delivering better and quicker service to the people of Chicago,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who spent the day in Washington D.C., said in a press release.

Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein added, “Pothole repair crews are now deployed in a way that maximizes efficiency and increases productivity. By using smarter strategies, the result has been the elimination of a large backlog of outstanding calls for service.”

Eliminating the backlog was even more impressive when you consider that it was accomplished by city crews alone — with no help from the “pothole killer,” a machine capable of filling a hole in 60 seconds with a much smaller crew.

That $50,000-a-month experiment — three years after a test with a different pothole-filling machine failed miserably — is now over.

“It was a two-month test and it ended. It was only supposed to be two months,” said CDOT spokesman Peter Scales.

The “pothole killer” is a truck with a boom arm attached to the front grill. The telescopic arm blows out debris and moisture from the pothole, then fills it with asphalt-patching material. The entire operation can be completed in less than a minute with one or, at most, two people. Currently, the city uses three- or four-person crews. They arrive at a pothole, use shovels to fill the hole with patching material from a dump truck, then tamp it down by hand.

Klein ordered the test, arguing that the pothole killer had worked like a charm for him in Washington, D.C.

Had the experiment succeeded, Klein had planned to lease even more of the trucks, freeing city employees for street-paving duties.

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